Eric Decker to the New York Jets: Just Crazy Enough to Work?

To the relief of New York Jets fans, the team signed wide receiver Eric Decker after the first two days of free agency passed with barely a whisper from Florham Park.

As reported by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Decker and the team signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $15 million in guaranteed money.

It’s incredibly hard to get a firm grasp of what to expect from Decker for many reasons.

First, Geno Smith is an unproven quarterback who struggled much of the season, though he improved as the season went on. Any quarterback is a step down from a future Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, but even though Smith could prove to be a very good starter, this is more akin to a stumble down a flight of stairs than a step down.

Can Decker produce? Well, while we can focus on the back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with Manning heaving the ball, we should also remember he caught eight touchdowns and had over 600 yards with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball.

So while he will definitely see a dip in production, it might not be as horrible as many think.

We also should consider that New York is not likely to be done yet. The Jets are very likely to add another free-agent receiver, which will further change his production and potentially his role. Ditto for any addition of a rookie in the upcoming draft.

So let’s talk about what we do know about him and what he can do.

Decker lacks elite speed but is a tough receiver who can come down with contested balls by outmuscling defenders. That makes him a solid red-zone target—something the Jets have lacked for several years.

With Jeremy Kerley mostly in the slot (though with all the injuries, he has shown he can do more), Decker is probably destined more for a role as the “split end” or “X” receiver—a guy normally farthest from the center on his side of the field and often on the opposite side of the field from the tight end.

That means while he will occasionally be asked to go vertical, he’s going to have to get off the jam at the line and could be asked to do some shorter routes as well.

Pro Football Focus tweeted out two charts from some of the material it provides for teams which is worth looking at.

First, it tweeted out a route breakdown for Decker. The chart shows that, out of 87 catches (and 135 targets), Decker was thrown at most on “Go” routes, followed by “Out” routes.

Next, we have Geno Smith’s numbers by route. While Smith threw the ball most on “Hitch” routes, he spread the ball pretty evenly among multiple routes.

He threw specifically to the “Out” route 39 times, completing 20 of those throws or 51.3 percent of them. The completed passes accounted for 278 yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions.

Smith threw even more often to the receiver on a “Go” route—41 times, his second-highest total after the “Hitch” route. Unfortunately he only completed just 36.6 percent, though he totaled 418 yards (101 after the catch) and six touchdowns. He also threw six interceptions on those plays.

What does this all mean aside from Pro Football Focus teasing us with stats it won’t normally release?

Well, it means Smith and Decker could hook up for quite a few passes, as routes that Decker runs well, Smith tended to throw to.

Again, depending on who else gets pulled into this offense, Decker could see an awful lot of work come his way.

I could absolutely see him grabbing 60-70 balls, totaling somewhere between 700-800 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.

It’s a guess, though, until we see more of the offense come together.

Player Analysis: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Name: Johnny Manziel

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 207 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Manziel’s game is predicated on mobility, as his ability to move outside the pocket is outstanding and he is far more comfortable throwing on the move than staying home in the pocket. However, Manziel also made some big improvements as a pocket passer this past season, though there is still room for improvement. Manziel told the media at the Combine that while sometimes you need to move outside of the pocket “I want to be a guy who can drop back and go through my progressions, go through my reads and really take what’s given to me by the defense.” Manziel does do a good job of keeping his eyes downfield even when scrambling and can look a defender off when moving, so that he can get a receiver open. Manziel is not afraid to throw the ball up and let his receiver make a play, something he did frequently with Mike Evans in 2013. While he wants to continue to be a mobile quarterback, Manziel has acknowledged that he will have to play smarter in the NFL to stay healthy, telling the press at the combine,

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

“You have to be on the field, you have to be healthy to be a great player. Stay healthy, be able to slide, pick your poison really when you need to go out and get a first down and when you need to do some things. Stay healthy, slide when you need to and have better ball security, which is what I’m working on as well.”  Manziel isn’t a big guy but he has large hands, which should help him with ball security. Quite often played big in big situations during his collegiate career and finds a way to sustain drives when his team needs him to. Was wildly successful in his two years starting.

Weakness: While he has worked on his pocket-passing skills, Manziel still leaves the pocket too early at times. His height and build are concerns given his tendency to run and whether he can stay healthy in the NFL is a big concern. Was able to have Evans bail him out on big throws, but needs to be more picky about when he risks it, and may lack a receiver like Evans at the next level making those throws more dangerous. Manziel has not done a ton of work under center, and will need to further adjust an already sometimes questionable technique. While he can stretch a play out, he sometimes does it for too long—occasionally tossing up some ill-advised passes. There are times he just needs to get rid of the ball and he hasn’t done so consistently. While he had a great two years at A&M,  it was only two years so his experience as a collegiate starter is minimal. As he mentioned at the combine, learning to slide, staying healthy and ball security are things he is working on. The biggest concern from a football standpoint comes down to whether he can adapt to the speed of the NFL and overcome issues with his height. A guy like Russell Wilson is a success because he does a tremendous job lining up his offensive line to give himself passing lanes to see through. Can Manziel learn to do that, or something like it? That’s a real concern.

Screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Intangibles: Much has been made of Manziel’s off-the-field lifestyle in college—maybe too much.  It’s hard to begrudge a young man some fun in college, but the real issue is whether he can become an adult and a professional and put funtime aside now that college is over.  Certainly there have been many kids coming out of college under less of a spotlight who failed. Manziel was adamant that his college time is over and he;s ready to work, saying at the combine, “I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line.” Manziel passed on numerous chances to get his face in front of the camera during the Super Bowl and declined, deciding instead to remain focused on football and improving his game. That speaks volumes to me. There have also been questions about how much he is dedicated to football and how hard he works. Without being at Texas A&M when he works, all I can do is relay what I have been told and what I have read.  I have heard plenty from people who say Manziel is a hard worker and puts in a ton of time during the week.  While I may not have all the inside scoop, I’ve heard enough to think that he has every intention (and ability) to put in the hours to get better. Of course, as they say on Game of Thrones: words are wind. He will have to prove it.

Notes:  A lot has been written about who Manziel is and what he’s about. It’s hard to avoid getting swept up in the persona we see in the media and have relayed to us via media repeating things agenda driven scouts tell them.  This is not to dismiss Manziel’s off-field issues. Prior to seeing him speak at the combine, Manziel came off to me as a bit of an entitled brat. Certainly you aren’t out of your mind tho think that if he changes, maybe he reverts once he gets to his goals. But if you get past the narrative, there’s a lot more to him and I feel as though we are writing him off unfairly from a personality standpoint. That said, there are issues from a football standpoint which are also a concern, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether he can avoid injury and make better decisions.

Of the quarterbacks in this class, I feel Manziel has the highest ceiling and the most exciting upside. However, his floor is lower than either Bridgewater or Bortles as well. A team will have to build an offense around him in a way you don’t need to with other quarterbacks and while some could, overall that’s not a tendency a lot of NFL coaches have.

All that said, if in the right spot, Manziel has the chance to be a tremendous quarterback in the NFL and for that upside, I’ve ranked him as high as I have.